Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Love in a foreign climate

I'm a sucker for a good wedding (a bad one can be fun, too) so I was delighted that the centrepiece of my trip to The Philippines was the marriage of my boyfriend's sister.

She and her husband were first hitched a few years ago, but they were young and penniless back then, so it was a tiny, civil affair.  They then moved to London where, even if the streets aren't paved with gold, it is at least possible for a nurse and a chef to earn enough to save for the wedding of their dreams, provided they hold it back in The Philippines where everything is so much cheaper.  Those dreams included a white frock, white doves, 150 people scoffing a lavish feast and a gorgeous, pastel-hued church in their hometown of Cotabato.  Oh, and an Englishman, me, bursting into song....

My role wasn't confined to cabaret crooning, either.  In fact, it seemed to grow like Topsy.  I was also granted the honour of being one of the bride's sponsors.  This doesn't mean I had to donate 100 pesos to Children in Need for every yard she walked down the aisle without tripping over her elaborate train.  Sponsors are older and allegedly wiser friends who agree to mediate should the union hit problems.  The couple had appointed well over a dozen each, so let's hope they're not expecting major trouble.

As well as being the only non-Filipino sponsor, I was also the only one who, like the happy couple, lived in London, so I'm guessing I'll be first choice should any marital tweaking be required.  It's perhaps fitting, therefore, that on the eve of the big day, I was promoted to chief sponsor.  This meant that, as well as singing three songs, I would now be required to make a short speech.  It all seemed to be turning into The Bill Buckley Show.  I'm a born performer, so that was fine by me.

Preparations were extensive and meticulous.  I was sent for a haircut, a facial, a pedicure and a manicure.  I opted for clear nail polish as I didn't want to upstage the bride.  I visited the home of my keyboard accompanist for two lengthy rehearsals of my songs.

Come the great morning, the wedding party departed from the bride's house in blazing sunshine.  We picked our way along narrow, rubble- and litter-strewn passages between breeze block bungalows with corrugated iron roofs.  My Kurt Geiger patent leather dress shoes encountered dust for the first time.  It was a far cry from Liberty in Regent Street, whence they came. 

All the neighbours turned out to witness this fairytale procession, complete with pale-faced Englishman towering over everyone else.  Dogs, chickens and small children seemed especially agog.  A dead rat, on its back with its legs in the air, appeared less interested.

The flowers in the huge church were yellow and white to match the building's colour scheme, perfect for a hot climate.  The service was long and seriously catholic but no-one fainted or nodded off in the heat.  The congregation's hymn singing put that of the average English wedding to shame.

To my surprise, all the wedding photos were taken in the church.  The priest disappeared, leaving friends and family to join the bride and groom at the altar in various configurations.  This meant the happy couple left the building last, rather than first, and there was no need for the electric keyboard player (the church appeared to have no organ) to master Mendelssohn's Wedding March.

Onto the reception, held in a function room atop Cotabato City's only shopping mall.  It was the familiar flower-filled scene of cloth-covered round tables but differences from a western do soon emerged.  An 'emcee' (the word is presumably a delightful corruption of MC, or Master of Ceremonies) gave a running commentary.  His voice was not the most expressive, and he was clearly a stranger to the dictum 'less is more'.  His comments were underscored by love ballads performed by off-duty soldiers.  The bride and groom dined alone on a stage.  There was no alcohol; instead, a bottle of Coca Cola with a straw and a glass of water graced each place setting.  The only dancing was the bride and groom's first smooch.  And by 3 o'clock, it was all over.

Every guest received a momento from London.  My ashtray, with pictures of Tower Bridge, the London Eye and a guardsman in his bearskin, has now crossed the world and ended up back where it started.

My speech was listened to politely, although I'm not sure the crowd understood all the gags - they certainly found my ashtray's round trip less hilarious than I did. 

They loved my singing, though.  My first number was Eric Clapton's Wonderful Tonight, the bride's favourite, to which the couple danced their first (and only) dance.

I was about to do a bit of patter between numbers when the emcee (who had introduced me as 'Mr Anthony Bill') cut in, wanting to know how many more songs I intended to sing, as events were running late.  Two, I informed him.  One would be better, he replied.  Having worked so hard to perfect my set, and sensing that the audience were on my side, I asked them to decide.  'Two', they overwhelmingly replied.  Hah!

Next came Theme from Love Story (Where Do I Begin?).  This was an even bigger hit than my first number, eliciting huge cheers.  The emcee still had the last laugh, though.  Before I could speak, he was back on the mic, announcing that the bride and groom would cut the cake during my third and final song, Burt Bacharach's What the World Needs Now.  This I didn't mind in the least, but he then talked all over it, giving the guests entirely unnecessary information like: "And they are now cutting the cake."   I had dared to attempt to usurp his authority, and I had paid for it!

Two white doves were released.  As we were in a function room, they were unable to soar into the blue, soaring instead only to the ceiling, but it was still a nice touch.

I learnt later that, although 150 had been invited, 200 had turned up to the reception.  Extra, uninvited guests are par for the course at Filipino weddings, apparently, so the bride and groom had taken the precaution of catering for an extra 20.  Instead, an additional 50 had to be accommodated.  Perhaps they all wanted to witness the brilliant English singer.

I don't blame the gatecrashers, though, as, my run-in with the emcee aside, it was a lovely occasion.  I was honoured to be given two major roles, especially as I have known the couple for less than a year.  The lack of booze meant no-one got into a drunken argument and it was nice to be back home, Kurt Geigers kicked off, by mid-afternoon.        

My boyfriend's sister and her husband had the wedding they wanted, and that's what matters, of course, whether it takes place in Cotabato, Canberra, Cologne or Coventry.

(photos courtesy of Rommel Catalan)

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you had a lovely time and they all adored you.x